Published January 13, 2008
BATHURST, New Brunswick – A van carrying a Canadian high school boys' basketball team collided with a truck Saturday, killing seven students and the coach's wife on their way home from a game.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Derek Strong said the seven players — between the ages of 15 and 18 — were pronounced dead at the crash site after their van crossed the center line and hit the tractor-trailer shortly after midnight.
"The sudden loss of eight people in this unthinkable accident shocked the nation and all Canadians join you in mourning their passing," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a letter of condolence sent to the school's principal.
The accident occurred on Highway 11 as the team was making a three-hour return trip from Moncton in Canada's far eastern New Brunswick province after a storm dumped snow, sleet and freezing rain on much of the province.
The nine senior varsity players — accompanied by their coach, his wife and their daughter — were minutes from reuniting with their families when the team's coach lost control of the van.
Emily Cleland, whose brother Nathan Cleland was killed in the accident, said parents were waiting at a fast food restaurant to pick up their children when they got a call to go to the hospital.
"He was my best friend, my whole life," Cleland said of her brother. "He was always so protective of me."
Strong said most of the victims were ejected from the vehicle. The van was equipped with seat belts but investigators didn't know if they were used.
Lydia Dupere, a spokeswoman for the Acadie-Bathurst Health Authority, said three people were still in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. A fourth person had been treated for injuries and released. The truck driver was not hurt.
"This is a whole community in mourning," Bathurst High School superintendent John McLaughlin said. "It's unthinkable what happened and everyone's trying to make some sense of it."